Which SAT II Math Should You Take?

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If you’re looking into taking a math SAT Subject Test, you’ve probably noticed that there are two different tests. Deciding between Math Level 1 and Math Level 2 might seem tough at first, but once you understand the purpose and content of these tests, you’ll know which one is best for your college applications.

 

These subject tests aren’t just a repackaged version of the SAT math section. While the SAT itself aims to test more of your logic and reasoning skills, the SAT Math subject tests focus more on actual mastery of a few specific concepts.

 

In this post, we compile insight from our highly-qualified SAT tutors and college mentors to help you determine which test you should take.

 

The Quick Statistics

 

SAT Subject Test Math Level 1

 

The Logistics:

  • 50 multiple-choice questions in 60 minutes
  • Calculators are allowed
  • Scores range from from 200 to 800
  • Assumes that you’ve taken algebra one, algebra two, and geometry
  • Is roughly 80% algebra and geometry, and roughly 20% number and operations and data analysis

 

The Content:

  • Numbers and Operations
    • Operations, ratio and proportion, complex numbers, counting, elementary number theory, matrices, sequences
  • Algebra and Functions
    • Basic algebraic functions, such as lines and parabolas, and right-angle trigonometry with basic usage of sine, cosine, and tangent
  • Geometry and Measurement
    • Three-dimensional: solids, surface area and volume (cylinders, cones, pyramids, spheres, prisms)
    • Coordinate: Lines, parabolas, circles, symmetry, transformations
    • Plane geometry (not directly covered in Math 2)
  • Data Analysis (Statistics and Probability)
    • Basic statistical measures (mean, median, mode, range) and linear regression, data analysis, and probability

 

SAT Subject Test Math Level 2

 

Math Level 2 tests everything that Math Level 1 tests, but at a more advanced level. The CollegeBoard states that it intends for this test to “highlight your abilities and showcase your interest in higher-level mathematics,” such as precalculus and trigonometry.

 

The Logistics:

  • 50 multiple-choice questions in 60 minutes
  • Calculators are allowed
  • Scores range from 200 to 800
  • Assumes that you’ve taken algebra 1 and 2, geometry, trigonometry, and precalculus
  • Roughly 80% algebra and geometry, and roughly 20% number and operations and data analysis

 

The Content:

  • Numbers and Operations
    • Operations, ratio and proportion, complex numbers, counting, elementary number theory, matrices, sequences, series, vectors
  • Algebra and Functions
    • Expressions, equations, inequalities, representation and modeling, properties of functions (linear, polynomial, rational, exponential, logarithmic, trigonometric, inverse trigonometric, periodic, piecewise, recursive, parametric)
  • Geometry and Measurement
    • Three-dimensional and coordinate geometry, including conics and polar coordinates
    • Right triangles, identities, radian measure, law of cosines, law of sines, equations, double angle formulas
  • Data Analysis (Statistics and Probability)
    • Standard deviation, exponential regression, and quadratic regression methods in addition to everything covered in Math Level 1

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Which Math SAT Subject Test Should I Take?

 

First, you should check the requirements of the college or program you’re applying to, since each institution has its own set of preferences. Some institutions will only accept one of the two subject tests. A few institutions actually require both, and some don’t want either. Always do your research and plan your testing approach before spending your money on test administrations and score reports.

 

If the college or program you’re applying to is flexible, here’s what we recommend.

 

SAT Subject Test Math Level 1

 

You should take SAT Math 1 if:

 

  • You’re looking to show a diverse skill set on your application
  • You prefer concrete problem-solving over abstract reasoning

 

A lot of liberal arts programs look for students who can play with both the logical and creative side of things. If you’re more artsy but want to show your quantitative skills, Math Level 1 is often a good addition to your application. It’s not as background-intensive as many of the SAT Subject Tests in science, and compared to Math Level 2, it’s less focused on abstract logic and more on concrete problem-solving.  

 

SAT Subject Test Math Level 2

 

You should take SAT Math 2 if:

 

  • You’re going into a STEM or STEM-related field
  • Abstract and analytical thinking are among your strengths
  • You have ample time to study and practice. We don’t recommend winging this test, and from our experience, students who do well on it usually scored above 750 on the SAT math section.

 

Math Level 2 is the test for people who are probably going to continue to use math in college and beyond. It tests for mastery of the fundamental concepts and thinking patterns that many college-level math courses (like linear algebra and multivariable calculus) are built upon. Many top engineering, math, and science programs require that applicants take Math Level 2 in addition to their other standardized tests. Taking Math Level 2 shows these programs that you’re confident in your mathematical reasoning skills and can tackle anything that they might throw at you.

 

Should I Take Both Math SAT Subject Tests?

 

In most cases, no. Taking both levels of the Math SAT Subject Tests is generally seen as redundant. Admissions committees are perfectly aware that Math Level 2 already includes all the concepts on Math Level 1. In fact, if you take both math tests in order to fulfill an SAT Subject Test quota, admissions committees might assume you’re trying to cover up some weakness in other subject areas. The point of SAT Subject Test requirements is to showcase the breadth of what you can do. Submitting two tests in the same subject area could work against you.

 

If you still aren’t sure which test to pick, or your schools and programs don’t have a preference, we recommend that you take the test you will likely score higher on (preferably 760 or above).  For SAT Subject Tests, your score carries much more weight than the actual test you took. If you’re sure you can score above a 760 in both, then take Math Level 2 as it’s a more difficult and comprehensive test.

 

As we said earlier though, you should always consult the rules of the programs you’re applying to first, because there are exceptions.

 

Whether you decide to take the Math Level 1 or Math Level 2 SAT Subject Test, remember that SAT math subject tests are very practice-intensive. The difference between doing well and doing great is often the amount of time you spend studying. Choosing the right test is only one piece of the puzzle—the right practice books, practice style, or even SAT mentor can all affect your ultimate score. 

Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.

 

For more information about SAT Subject Tests check out these posts:

 

Why Should You Take SAT Subject Tests?

What’s the Difference Between the SAT and the SAT Subject Test?

Complete List of SAT Subject Tests

Two Birds, One Stone: Can You Study for the APs and SAT IIs at the Same Time?

5 Strategies for Tackling SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject Tests: Answers to Our Most Frequently Asked Questions

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.